VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 3

SYNOPSIS
At the site of the rover landing on the moon, the angels Daniel and Malachi have another meeting to discuss the coming return of Kazaan to Earth. The Ghost Rider has been freed from Hell and is on the trail, but so are Hoss and Ruth. While Daniel holds humanity up as wonderful creatures, Malachi looks down on them as inferior, wondering why they even bother.

In Texas, the demon Hoss drives his convertible down an empty highway with his sidekick Buttview riding shotgun. The Ghost Rider speeds past them, paying the car no mind, but Hoss recognizes him. He pulls up beside the Rider and asks him, "ain't you s'posed to be in Hell?". Meanwhile, Gustav and the monstrous Kazaan discuss their plans. Gustav has assembled a private security force of 500 men to protect them, but Kazaan brushes this away by declaring them mere fodder against the forces coming for them. Kazaan explains that there are some down in Hell who believe the cold war with Heaven is pointless and that it's time to start fresh somewhere new. Gustav asks for his reward for his service, and Kazaan grants his wish by healing him of the paralysis crippling his body. Overjoyed, Gustav shouts "I'm cured! I can walk!"...but then falls flat of his face, crippled once again. As Gustav yells for his secretary, Miss Catmint, to help him up, Kazaan explains that it was just a taste to spur him on.

Back on the highway, Hoss continues to question the Ghost Rider about why he's not in Hell. When Blaze finally recognizes Hoss as a demon, he attacks by breathing a blast of hellfire into the car beside him. The car runs off the road, but the already-healing Hoss is far from dead. Determined the finish the job and keep out of Hell, Blaze turns around to speed toward the advancing Hoss. Chains shoot from the Rider's mouth, entangling Hoss and pulling him from the car as he speeds by. Their battle passes by a commuter bus that's carrying the angel Ruth, who kills the bus driver and commandeers the vehicle. Back on the road, Hoss produces a tentacle of his own to pull Blaze off his bike, and the two fall onto the asphalt holding on to one another.

Elsewhere, in a church filled with parishioners, Father Adam is in the middle of a sermon when he hears a voice in his mind. The voice belongs to Satan, who tells Adam that he knew this day would come after his deal: his soul in return for his "indiscretion" staying under wraps. Satan has a job for Father Adam in Texas, to return Johnny Blaze to Hell. Adam walks into the church's basement, leaving his congregation confused. As he leaves, Adam activates the bombs hidden under the church, killing everyone inside.

Back in Texas, Hoss and Blaze continue their battle. Hoss tries to explain that he's not after him; but when Blaze says "you're in my way" Hoss starts to put two and two together. Their fight stops when they see the bus bearing down on them, both recognizing Ruth as the driver. The two struggle to untangle themselves from the chains and tentacles and pull free right as the bus roars past them. Ruth sends the bus off the road, jack-knifing it across the highway. Hoss asks the Rider if he's after the same thing as he and Ruth, having figured out what Blaze was back on Earth to do. But when Hoss mentions the name "Kazaan", Ruth picks the bus up and throws it at her two enemies.

Meanwhile, back at Gustav's factory, he, Kazaan, and Miss Catmint enter the large room that houses their "infernal machine", upon which Miss Catmint applied the mystical sigals to herself. The machine is a giant drill, about which Kazaan explains that it will be drilling a long way down, "a very long way down indeed".

ANNOTATIONS
This issue was reprinted in the Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation trade paperback.

REVIEW
Johnny Blaze continues down the "Road to Damnation", and we're finally given the one thing we all really wanted out of this series more than anything - the Ghost Rider dealing out some righteous vengeance. And after two issues of set-up, the fight sequence here couldn't have come too soon.

The three main antagonists - Hoss, Ruth, and Blaze - all start to converge on Kazaan and Gustav in Texas, turning a desert highway into a three-way battle royale. It's the personal touches that make the running fight scene so enjoyable, from the banter between Hoss and Blaze to the out-right ruthlessness (pun intended) of the angel Ruth. The thought of Ruth chucking a bus at her two enemies is wonderfully over-the-top and is honestly just pretty damn cool. For my money, "Road to Damnation" would make a great action movie (are you listening, Mark Steven Johnson?) with so many "wow!" moments. Sure it's light on the plot, but I've come to look at this series as the comic equivalent of a popcorn-flick. It's light and fun without much substance.

Of course, as usual with most Garth Ennis stories, things tend to get too over-the-top and tailspin into being plain ludicrous. And seriously, that's pretty hard to do when you're writing about redneck demons, killer angels, and a plan to drill a hole into Hell. But in the same vein as Buttview's appearance in the last issue, Ennis goes for the gutter humor with Hoss' tentacle "appendage" being a stand-in for his penis. Was that really necessary, Garth?

One talking point about this issue, which I believe kind of split the opinions of the Ghost Rider fanbase, was the new powers Blaze exhibits in the battle with Hoss. Personally, I've always felt that the Rider's powers should be fluid and in-the-moment. Yes, the hellfire and Penance Stare are staples, as are the chains, but what Ennis and Crain do here is add some unique upgrades. Now the Rider blows fire and shoots chains from his mouth. I like the blowing fire bit, especially the visual with the hellfire surrounding his skull being what's shooting out his mouth, but the chains were just a bit much. Yes, it's an amazing visual effect, but what use could those really be?

Speaking of Clayton Crain, he turns in an amazing job on the artwork front, surpassing what he'd accomplished in the previous issues. This is due, most likely, to their actually being some action and motion in the script instead of just talking heads reciting plot points, which seemed to have been the series' main staple until now. The money shot of the issue is easily the descending bus being tossed into the air above Hoss and Blaze. Sheer beauty.

So while no one can accuse this story of being a thinking-man's comic it's still quite a fan ride, especially now that we've got some much-needed action in amongst the stock-plot and straw man villains. Let's hope Ennis and Crain can keep it up.

Grade: A


Ghost Rider # 3
Published: Jan. 2006
Original Price: $2.99
Cover: Clayton Crain

Title: "The Road to Damnation", Part 3
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Clayton Crain
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Clayton Crain
Editor: Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada